Education Policy

Fewer, Better Tests Can Boost Student Achievement

by Linda Darling-Hammond, John Jackson and Marc Tucker

(This Commentary was published in Education Week in print on October 9, 2013 as Note to Congress:  Fewer, Better Tests Can Boost Student Achievement, and online October 7, 2013)

Both Democrats and Republicans have submitted proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal law governing K - 12 education that has not been revamped since the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act--the latest iteration of the ESEA--was signed into law in 2002.  Among the few things both parties agree on is continuing to require grade-by-grade testing and a new requirement that would focus the draconian consequences that once threatened all schools on the lowest-achieving schools exclusively; in other words, those schools that primarily serve low-income and new immigrant students.  This is a big mistake.

Taken together, along with our continued failure to address equity in school resources, these two provisions would virtually guarantee that the overall performance of our students will never equal that of our toughest international competitors and would further widen the gap between the top performers and our disadvantaged students.

Read full article in Education Week here

Ted Sizer's Vision for The New American High School

(first published July 24, 2013 in The Washington Post)

by Jay Mathews, Washington Post columnist

When Theodore Sizer, known to friends and admirers as Ted, died of colon cancer at 77 in 2009, we lost the nation's leading scholar on high schools and one of the best education writers ever.

So I was glad to get his just-published book, "The New American High School," which explains his vision for the future of educating our teenagers.

The school reform organization he founded, the Coalition of Essential Schools, has only three listed members in this region: Arlington County public schools, the New School of Northern Virginia and the National Education Association.  But many area parents and educators have read Sizer's works, including his 1984 masterpiece, "Horace's Compromise."  Because this area has some of the most ambitious high schools in the country, I looked for ideas in Sizer's new book that might help us.

Three Quick Reads for Policy Makers


When I left the university ranks some twenty years ago to become principal, one of the first things I missed about my old job was having the time to read.  Now, as both superintendent and principal, reading time seems even more precious but even more important.  So I find myself grabbing quick reads, and three of them hit my desk over the holiday break.

The first was the Atlantic magazine story on Finland's educational success.  If you haven't tired of reading about why we keep getting it wrong while Finland gets it right, this is worth a look.  The new twist in this piece are the comments by Pasi Sahlberg from the Finnish Ministry of Education noting that Americans simply ignore what is crucial to Finland's success:  a focus on equity over excellence.

Almost Another NCLB Victim

"Dr. Wood, I need your help on this one." My assistant is one of the most competent people I know, so when she asks for help I figure it is pretty important.

"While you were out yesterday a young woman came in to enroll. She is eighteen, has missed almost 14 days of school this year, and still has several graduation tests to pass. She says she is living with a boyfriend in our district - so?"

If you don’t deal with the demands put on schools by No Child Left Behind and state accountability models you might not know what the question was. Let me make it simple for you: Do we take this girl--who we do not have to take, who has aged out of public schooling, who is not an ‘official’ district resident--and risk damaging our school report card?

Add This to Your Reform Wish List

On a recent fall Wednesday morning I found myself on the deck of an almost completed cabin overlooking the mist coming off the Hocking River. Two teachers, three fathers, sixteen students, and I had gathered for the once-weekly ‘show and tell’ session in our junior/senior Advisories -- this time at the cabin three seniors had designed and built for their senior project.

The cabin is ‘off the grid’. It has solar power, a composting toilet, water caught from the roof, and a wood burning stove. It is, in the best sense, sustainable. The three seniors had done all the research on the building techniques, worked with local carpenters and solar installers to learn what they needed to know, and had built the cabin from the ground up.

More Reasons for Hope

In a recent post I found a few things to be optimistic about in terms of educational policy in the states. Now, more hopeful signs: the results in the Wake County, NC school board elections, an Oregon school district’s refusal to take the bribe to institute teacher assessments linked to standardized test scores, and the pressures of No Child Left Behind landing on the doorstep of an innovative school.

In 1976 the school board in Wake County, lead by one of the more courageous superintendents in the nation, began the process of desegregating its schools by socioeconomic status. The logic was simple: if you wanted to ensure equal access to an education, you needed to make sure that schools were not segregated by the incomes of students’ families. When you group all the middle class students in one school and all the poor students in another, you simply exacerbate the effects of poverty and all but ensure one school will succeed while the other will struggle.

Yet Another Commission

In yet another signal that the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB is not working (as if we need one), policy makers in Ohio are pointing to an ever-growing number of college students needing remedial work. Of course, every such problem provides a chance to convene yet another ‘commission’; this one is called the "Regional Consortia for P-20 Alignment."

Their task is "to bring high school standards in line with the realities of higher education," according to our state superintendent.  With 41% of college students taking remedial course in mathematics or English something must be done.


Glimmers of Hope

OK, I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy.  And to start this week, what I read in the press gives me just a little hope that thinking about our schools, at least at the state levels, might be a little clearer.

One Superintendent's Thoughts on Opening Day: "Keep Paddling through Rough Waters"

It is a tradition in our district to bring together the entire staff--teachers, aides, bus drivers, custodians, cooks, and secretaries--for an opening day meeting.  Part of that morning is an address from the superintendent, and this year I gave my first such speech.  There was much to say that was specific to our district, but in closing I had some things to say about the overall state of public education.  Here are those comments:

Managing From Up Close

I believe the current conventional wisdom about school district leadership is flawed. Many of the current ‘reformers’ are betting on what I would call ‘management from afar’. It goes like this—find an executive from an area other than education, train them in the business of schools, and turn them loose to cut budgets and drive up test scores. Oh, and keep the old model of district leadership with orders coming from ‘downtown’ and the district leadership knowing little, if anything, about the real life of classrooms.

That may work in some places, and fail in others. (If it does work then we need some similar approaches to the leadership of our medical system, Congress, and the home mortgage and banking industries.) But I am willing to bet that the impact will be limited.

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